LONDON - No sooner had Lin Dan confirmed himself as the best badminton player ever after successfully defending his Olympic singles title than he invited beaten foe and friend Lee Chong Wei to his wedding.
"I hope he accepts," Lin said at their news conference on Sunday.
Chong Wei didn't reply, but as their friendship goes back a decade, he's likely to. There was nothing friendly between them about an hour beforehand, when they produced a gripping final in Wembley Arena that lived up to the hype.
Lin won 15-21, 21-10, 21-19 to repeat his victory over Chong Wei in the Beijing Games final, and claim his sixth Olympic or world title.
"There's only one Lin Dan in the world," Chong Wei said.
If he hadn't been gracious it would have been understandable. Lin's wizardry with a racket has reduced Chong Wei to being the greatest player yet to win an Olympic or world title. That was why he will keep playing to 2014, to give himself two more chances to win the world title missing from his 42 career titles, only six less than Lin.
"He's such a brilliant rival that I am quite lucky," Lin said. "I treasure the opportunities of playing him."
Chong Wei was desperate for a different kind of treasure. Under considerable pressure to deliver Malaysia's first-ever Olympic gold medal, he told his country and fans afterwards, "I'm sorry."
But of Malaysia's three silver medals, he now owns two of them as their most successful Olympian.
He nearly also didn't make it to London. He tore right ankle ligaments 10 weeks beforehand, and even he doubted playing in London. But stem cell injections and a vigorous rehab got him into the field. Taking painkillers, he played himself into such good form that even Lin was wary of his chances.
Chong Wei walked into the arena spotted with more China flags than Malaysia's, but to a decidedly warmer reception than he received in Beijing, where he admitted he choked in the final.
Then the game's two biggest stars set about playing eye-popping rallies. Lin had trouble with his range in the first game but in the second he tuned in and let Chong Wei defend and make the errors.
They lifted their games in the third, and raised the tension by tying at 12, 13, 15, 16, 18 and 19. Chong Wei conceded match point and Lin changed shuttles to drag out the drama. When Chong Wei's final shot landed long, Lin took off around the arena, arms out like a jet plane, until he was tackled by his coaches.
"The whole match was fierce, it was so close," he said.
Chong Wei slumped to the court, hunched over in tears.
"I am very disappointed with a silver medal again," he said. "I worked very hard but what's done is done."
Lin said he hadn't decided on his future. The only certainty was a wedding for his wife, Xie Xingfang, the retired two-time world champion and Beijing silver medallist. They married in 2010 but badminton's power couple have waited until after these games to have the ceremony.
The initials of her nickname, FF, are tattooed on his right arm. The left has five stars, representing each of his biggest titles. Asked if he'd add a sixth star, he said he would — for his first child.
The teammate groomed to replace him, Chen Long, won the bronze medal beating Lee Hyun-il of South Korea 21-15, 15-21, 21-15.
"I am happy even though I didn't manage to get to the (final)," Chen said. "I still hope to win the gold medal in the future."
Lee Hyun-il lost the bronze playoff in a second straight Olympic Games, and accepted his fate with a calm resignation.
Four years ago in Beijing, Lee lost to Chen Jin then retired. But South Korean officials persuaded him to play again to help the undermanned 2010 Thomas Cup team.
"I just challenged myself again to try to get a medal this time," Lee said. "I didn't achieve my aim but it has happened and I cannot do anything to change it. I tried my best and I played as well as I can so I don't have any regrets about the match. I now feel relieved it is all over."